Toilets, Temples, Modi and Development

  • By Senthil
  • October 2013

Some  months ago, this writer met a regional co-coordinator of an NGO which  focuses on sanitation in rural areas. During the course of a casual  conversation, he complained that each village family spends more than  Rs. 10,000 for festivals annually, but is not ready to spend Rs. 3000  for building a toilet. The writer felt outraged at this linking of  toilets and the celebration of divinities.

Anyway,  one asked if the toilet system his NGO was promoting was water  intensive, and if so, how were village people to manage the water,  when they had to struggle daily to get their drinking water from  public taps. The gentleman had no answer.

Most  NGOs and persons who speak on the issue of sanitation operate on the  basis of urban stereotypes, without any real understanding of our  society or the issues it faces. More importantly, running NGOs is an  easy way to build a career and it is rewarding to continue upholding  the stereotypes rather than to seek genuine solutions.

But  when a prime ministerial candidate speaks the same stereotypes, it is  a matter of grave concern. At the finale of a youth gathering,  Manthan, in Delhi recently, Narendra Modi stated that we (Indians)  have to build toilets first and then temples later. As reported in  the media, he said, "I am known to be a Hindutva leader. My image  does not permit to say so, but I dare to say. My real thought is - pehle  shauchalaya, phir devalaya  (toilet first, temple later).

The  statement sent tremors of dismay all over what may be regarded as  Narendra Modi’s "natural constituency. The utterly cavalier  fashion in which the Gujarat Chief Minister juxtaposed toilets with  temples with an eye to score secular brownie points, shook the  confidence of all who hoped he would shatter the tentacles of the  entrenched anti-Hindu ethos of the Nehruvian State system. Instead,  he played along.

Clearly,  Narendra Modi does not understand either the concept of temples or  the concept of personal hygiene (sauch)  in our civilisation. He seems to have surrendered himself completely  to the Western framework of sanitation, as programmes in Gujarat  suggest.

True,  the pressure of population, growing urbanization, and the absence of  open spaces has made and is now making toilets a rural imperative.  But before we move to condemn a whole nation, we must understand the  system we are trying to overturn. Are we merely trying to ape the  West, or counter criticism from the West, or are we interested in  improving the quality of life of our people in conformity with the  new social reality of their lives?

In  the West, society wants people to dress properly, regardless of  whether or not they have taken a bath. But in our dharmic  civilisation, personal hygiene, cleanliness, mental purity, and kula  acharams are the parameters within which a person must function. Here, the  need to maintain personal cleanliness is more important than personal  comfort. Hence, traditionally, people preferred to perform their  ablutions in places far away from home, even if it involved  discomfort. The toilet system has long been alien to rural India;  people hated defecating in confined spaces, having to bear the bad  smell.

The sastras prescribed  strict rules on how to defecate. Manu Smriti says one has to roll out  his sacred threads and put them on the right ear, and look at the sky  while defecating. Manu Smriti Vishnu Purana gives guidelines  regarding the distance to be maintained from a water source, a river,  a temple, while urinating or defecating. There are several rules  regarding the direction to look, and how to clean oneself after  defecation. While rules may differ in different sastras,  the core idea is same - defecation has to be done in the open, and  far away from home, temple, rivers and water source.

Scientifically,  it has been established that toilets are breeding place of germs,  more than any other part of the house. The toilet tap has the highest  concentration of germs.

More  pertinently, the western toilet system is water intensive and totally  unsustainable in the Indian reality. Each flushing of the toilet  takes at least 10 litres of water. An average person thus consumes  around 50 litres of water for toilet alone. A family of four needs  around 200 litres of water daily for toilets alone. For 25 crore  families of India, one would 50 billion litres of water daily. Does  India have it?

Already  in villages, there is water scarcity. In my own village, people buy  water for drinking and cooking in summer, when the bore wells go dry.

More  pertinently, the water used in toilets is flushed into septic tanks,  where it remains stagnant for years and become poisonous. When the  tank is full, the water and solid waste are drained into the rivers  and water sources. Toilet water forms the bulk of sewage discharged  by major cities and towns. Is this sanitation? Our holy rivers, the  Ganga and Yamuna, are virtually sewage dumps today, and if there is  no fresh water from the Himalayas, all these wastes would stagnate  there and devastate the metros.

Septic  tanks are one of the largest breeding grounds of mosquitoes, leading  to spread of germs. They also emit greenhouse gases and contribute to  global warming. Imagine, crores of such systems emitting methane on a  daily basis.

A  major question which none of those who advocate the toilet system  will answer is – who will clean all the toilets being built?

Construction  and NGO lobbies are using the sanitation propaganda for their own  interests. NGOs in particular are using this route to dump foreign  funding in India for all manner of purposes, one of which is  conversion.


Urbanisation  is destroying our dharmic civilisation. After 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru  who claimed to be last Englishman to rule India, unleashed a massive  westernisation programme, of which urbanisation was a part. Most  Hindu intellectuals mistakenly believe that as Indian civilisation  also had Nagaras in the past, urbanisation is not wrong. But the  urban system of the west is not same as the Nagara of our civilisation, and villages of the west are not the same as the Gramas of our country. The wrongful equation of  western concepts with Indian concepts has led to the devastation of  our dharmic society.

Grama  is the permanent living place in our traditional society. Nagara is  an administrative capital, and people come to the nagara on a  temporary basis for trade and not for permanent settlement. A typical grama had all the facilities  needed for the people, and even today we can find at least a dozen  different jatis living in a grama practicing different occupations.

The  nagara and grama are not an ever-expanding entity. The Nagara is designed within a fixed  boundary. Protective deities (usually male gods, eg Karuppanar and  Muneeswaran in Tamil Nadu) are installed at the borders of the grama  and nagara and other temples at the center. In our civilisation,  these gods protect the people living there and these gods are still  worshipped as kula  devata.

Within  a nagara and grama, different jatis live in their own colony, with  their own god or goddess which they worship regularly. The King would  build a magnificent temple (Shiva temple, Vishnu temple and the  temple for the king’s kula devata)  at the center of nagara. When the population increases, new gramas &  nagaras are created rather than mindlessly expanding the current one,  as we are doing today.

These  indigenous civilisational designs are completely ignored by the  policy designers of our country. Our Hindu Intellectuals utterly  failed to understand these aspects, and there has been no indigenous  research on any of our civilisational designs.

For  six decades, the western urban system has been indiscriminately built  over our well designed Indian nagaras and gramas, continuously  expanding by destroying and engulfing the villages in the periphery.  The protective border deities, and the gods of each jati settlement  (Sthana  Devata)  and the grama  devata all become unwanted street temples in the new westernised urban  center. Later, in the name of development, these street temples are  demolished on the order of the Indian Judiciary. (When Modi destroyed  more than 300 temples in Gandhinagar in the name of development,  there is high possibility that those deities were once the protective  gods of villages destroyed for urban expansion.

(See  Radha Rajan - Click On Below Links To View)
1. Article 1
2. Article 2

Open  Spaces

Open  defecation is never a problem in a typical grama environment. People go to nearby fields  and the waste is automatically decomposed within a day or two.  Traditionally, the villagers dig pit in the fields, defecate and  close them with soil. The problem arises only when this grama  structure is destroyed to expand the city, and all open space is  colonised for commercial purposes.

As  in all propaganda against our dharmic society, here too, the victim  is accused by the perpetrator. Urban India which accuses villagers of  being unhygienic, ignores the fact that it has colonised the  villagers’ land.

Another  reason for the problem of defecation is the collapse of the  traditional Grama Panchayat, which regulated the daily administration  of villages. Before 1947, every grama was a self-governing autonomous  entity, with rights to regulate their own land. They religiously  protected the forest land within and around their villages through  collective decisions.

But  westernised urban India paralyzed the functioning of the traditional  grama panchayats and deprived rural people of the power to regulate  themselves. Thus open space within the grama became prone to  occupation by both insiders and outsiders. Dharampal, in his book  "Panchayat Raj, explains the existence of two kind of panchayats  in the gramas of Rajasthan during the 1960s. One, the Sarkar  Panchayat, which is run for name’s sake, and the other the  traditional Panchayat where all important decisions are taken. This  latter is now most probably extinct, thanks to the tsunami of  globalisation.

UN  standards

The  present sanitation programme is not designed by Indians for Indian  needs, but defined by the United Nations as a Universal Standard of  development, which is being foisted on every nation. An illusion is  created that if there is no toilet, there is no sanitation. A casual  analysis of current toilet system, however, shows it is the most  unhygienic entity in the world, and spreads germs and diseases rather  than open defecation.

Toilet  and Women

An  emotional point raised by Narendra Modi in support of the toilet  system is that it is humiliating to women to defecate in public. His  concerns are right, but his understanding of the issue is wrong. The  issue here is about privacy for women and not about the toilet system. Women in villages have no issues with open  defecation as long as they have a private space. That calls for an  appropriate village design. And it is cheaper and healthier than  forcing them to build individual toilets.

Open  defecation is not suitable to the European climate, where decomposition is not easy.  Hence they need to build toilets for protection from the weather and  for sanitation. Our traditional system was based on our environmental  situation.

Indus  Valley Civilisation

Many  urban Hindus often cite the Indus valley civilisation to claim we had  toilets in that remote era, but there is no proper substantiation for  this. The photographs available indicate only bathrooms and not toilets. If indeed toilets were part of the Indus Valley  civilisation, why were they not present in latter day nagaras?  Kautilya in Arthasastra provides a detailed account of how a nagara  should be designed, but never mentions toilets there. Similarly, all  major nagaras of the pre-Islamic period, had no toilet system.

Nor  do we find references to toilets in our Itihasa like Ramayana and Mahabharata. Our gods Rama and Sita did not build  toilets in forests; nor they build toilets in their palaces. Our  people who built magnificent temples, did not build magnificent  toilets. Why?

The  entire history of the world has been written on the basis of the  western thought framework. Civilisation is also defined according to  the western paradigm. Big buildings, drainages, sewages, and other  infrastructure are the benchmarks of this definition. In contrast, in  our dharmic system, personal hygiene, conduct, and simple living are  the benchmarks of civilisation. The term kalacharam itself denotes the "Acharams that everyone follows, and not the  buildings or palaces. But urban India which inherited unlimited  absolute power from the British, sees everything from the western  perspective and frames policies that are hostile to our traditional  life style.

Toilets  or Temples

Now  we come to the core question. Which is important for us - toilet, as  urban Indians demand, or temples that traditional society gives  priority to?

Again,  it is a matter of perspective. Urban Indians see temples as a place  of worship at par with a church or mosque. But Indian tradition views  the temple as the place where the Deva / Devi resides. The whole  grama / Nagara belongs to the Deva and Devi who protects the people  living in her place. In the Ramayana, when Hanuman lands in Lanka, it  is the Lankadevi who fights him and is defeated by him. Even in our  recent history, the Travancore ruler announced that his entire  kingdom belongs to Sri Padmanabha Swami.

There  is an inherent consciousness in our traditional society that the  deity of the grama and nagara is supreme and hence it is a foremost  duty to conduct the poojas and rituals to the grama  devata as per established schedule. This consciousness was undermined by the  colonial administration which introduced the concept of private land  ownership 200 years ago. Hence the urban centres consider land as  private entity, and urban Indians think toilets are more important  than temples or divinities.

Modi’s  attitude more damaging than his words

Whether  Narendra Modi has insulted Hindu sentiments is not the issue. But the  attitude he conveys is a matter of concern. Modi is conveying a  message that human comfort is supreme and gods and temples are  secondary and take second place. This is a western capitalistic  mindset that is very dangerous. It creeps into the mind insidiously  and destroys society and nation from within.

First  published in Click To View

Editor – Both need to happen together, need not be mutually exclusive. It  is like saying that India must not explode a nuclear bomb because  people are poor, living in poverty.

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